GALVESTON — It may seem that traditional church music has always been organ music, but of course, the technology available to the church didn’t include organs for more than its first 1,000 years.

Our guide to the ecclesiastical use of pipe organs is Ron Wyatt, the celebrated organist of Galveston’s Trinity Episcopal Church, 2216 Ball Ave. And a word of caution for those who would aspire to his level of expertise: It helps to be a bit crazy.

“As to the disciplines required to become an organist, I believe you have to be somewhat insane,” he said. “Who in their right mind would want to study an instrument where you have to coordinate both feet and both hands while at the same time reading three lines of music? It is sometimes hard to imagine that so many volunteer to put themselves through this process. That being said, there is no musical instrument in the world that offers so many possibilities and so many enjoyable thrills.”

Wyatt explained that the earliest organ hymns we may know date back to the 16th century, and that organs didn’t approach their current complexity for another 100 years after that.

Like hard rock, the music produced by a full-fledged pipe organ, such as the one Trinity has, can be as much felt as heard. Its continuous, sustained tones differ from those of other instruments. Its ability to create visceral, subsonic tones which stir even a person’s skin itself are incomparable.

“There is something about the atmosphere that a pipe organ produces that has never been duplicated,” Wyatt said. “That is the reason the instrument is so special to the church. Because the sound is produced by wind, in some ways it has the atmosphere of a living, breathing entity.”

In a day when much of the music you hear has been filtered and adjusted by digital devices, including the infamous Auto-Tune (which attempts to correct the pitch of even the most tone-challenged professional singers), Wyatt is a fan of old-school, analog tech when it comes to church.

“This is what sets the pipe organ apart from digital instruments,” he said. “It is the difference between hearing a singer sing and hearing a recording of someone singing. There is no comparison. Worshipers say that a pipe organ makes the service grand and atmospheric in a very special way that no other instrument achieves.”

Of course, there is a downside to the complex creation that is a handcrafted, European-style pipe organ, especially one located on a barrier island: The upkeep never ends.

“The challenges are the same as maintaining any machine — staying on top of the minor things that need adjustment,” Wyatt said. “Of course, organs must be tuned periodically to sound their best and fulfill all the functions they are expected to do — such as accompanying singers and congregations and playing the literature written for it.”

 

 

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